Disagreements over the war against Hamas are driving United States President Joe Biden towards a “breach” with Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, whom he believes can no longer be “influenced even in private,” The Washington Post reported on Sunday, citing insiders in Washington.
Quoting “19 senior administration officials and outside advisers,” the newspaper said that Biden’s mounting frustration with Netanyahu has led some White House aides to suggest that the president ramp up public criticism of the Israel Defense Forces operation in the Gaza Strip.
Politico claimed last week that Biden is “deeply suspicious” of Israel’s leader and had said privately that Netanyahu was a “bad f–ing guy.”
While the White House subsequently denied the report, the Wall Street Journal said on Feb. 1 that Biden is frustrated over the number of casualties in Gaza, the displacement of civilians from their homes, “and the lack of a road map for ending the fighting.”
Separately from the Post article, a senior Biden administration official told NBC News on Sunday that “there is a growing divide between the U.S. and Israel,” specifically over the looming IDF offensive in Rafah.
On Thursday, Biden appeared to describe Israel’s military response to Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre of 1,200 people in southern Israel as “over the top,” adding that he was seeking a “sustained pause” in the war.
“I’m of the view, as you know, that the conduct of the response in Gaza, in the Gaza Strip, has been over the top,” Biden said at a press conference. The White House later clarified his remarks were directed at Israel.
The comments came as the Democratic president is under intensifying domestic pressure to compel the Jewish state to end its defensive war against Hamas ahead of the November election in the U.S.
Last week, a top Biden advisor informed enraged Arab community leaders in Michigan, including Hamas and Hezbollah supporters, that the administration agrees it has made “missteps” in its support for Israel.
Netanyahu told Fox News Sunday that while he has been speaking “regularly” with the president, the two leaders have not talked since Biden’s latest remarks accusing Israel of using disproportionate force.
“I don’t know what he [Biden] meant by that, but I can tell you where we are: Look, we were attacked in the worst attack on Jewish people since the Holocaust,” said Netanyahu.
“That Oct. 7 massacre was equivalent to 20 9/11s in one day, and the equivalent of 50,000 Americans slaughtered, burned, maimed, raped, beheaded, and 10,000 Americans taken hostage, including mothers and children, so what would America’s response be?” he charged.
“I’d say that it would be at least as strong as Israel’s, and many Americans tell me: ‘We would’ve flattened them, we would’ve turned them into dust,’” Netanyahu added, noting that the IDF is taking extraordinary measures to prevent harm to civilians, “as no other army has on earth.”
During a visit to Israel last week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed it was “essential” to go ahead with ceasefire talks. “We continue to believe that an agreement is possible and indeed essential, and we will continue to work relentlessly to achieve it,” he said.
Israel has rejected proposals for a permanent ceasefire and has said it will continue in its goal to eradicate Hamas, return the remaining 136 hostages and ensure that Gaza can never again pose a threat.
Blinken spoke shortly after Netanyahu said in an address to the nation that his government would not agree to the “delusional demands” Hamas is making as part of ceasefire negotiations.
During a security briefing at a military base in southern Israel on Sunday, Netanyahu reiterated that Israel would not stop its campaign against Hamas until the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip is completed.
“This requires our security control and our comprehensive security responsibility over all territory west of the Jordan River, including the Gaza Strip. There is no alternative to this in the foreseeable future,” he told attendees, including Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi.
“We are also saying this to the international community and to the president of the U.S. and to all leaders,” the premier added.
The Biden administration is reportedly exploring the possibility of leveraging arms shipments to Israel to place pressure on Netanyahu to scale back the war and let more humanitarian aid into Gaza, according to an NBC News report published late last month.
At the direction of the White House, the U.S. Department of Defense has been examining what weapons Israel has requested that could be used as leverage, current and former officials told the outlet.
Among the weaponry under discussion are 155-mm artillery rounds and Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) bomb guidance kits, which enable the IDF to accurately target terrorist operatives and avoid unnecessary civilian casualties in Gaza, NBC added.
John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the U.S. National Security Council, appeared to deny the report, telling reporters, “There has not been a change in our policy.” JNS